Many Coloradans who are still struggling to make ends meet due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were relieved when the latest $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package was signed. Individual stimulus checks, however small, will help to keep a roof overhead, and millions of federal dollars in rental assistance will keep landlords solvent and tenants out of debt. 

But state leaders should treat federal action as a reprieve, not a solution. It’s time for decisive legislative action that will protect tenants once federal support runs out.

We held six of 10 seats appointed by Gov. Jared Polis to the Special Eviction Prevention Task Force convened last year by the state Division of Housing. Our group was tasked with evaluating housing instability associated with COVID-19 and invited to make policy recommendations

Top row: Rachel Friend, Beatriz Gonzalez, Skippy Mesirow. Bottom row: Jennie Rodgers, Chris Romer, Leanne Wheeler.

We applaud the state legislature for considering steps to keep Coloradans housed and urge the passage of policies that meaningfully help curb evictions and address disparities. We specifically support Senate Bill 173, the “Keep Coloradans Housed” Act, led by Sens. Julie Gonzales and Dominick Moreno, and Reps. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez and Yadira Caraveo.

Colorado’s housing affordability crisis long preceded COVID-19 but has been illuminated and exacerbated by the pandemic. This is especially true for low-income renters, people of color and immigrant renters who already faced systemic challenges to finding and maintaining safe, stable housing and have suffered disproportionate health and financial harm due to COVID. 

Policymakers must act, including on housing, to minimize the expected “K-shaped recovery” that will otherwise continue the widening income and racial inequities that COVID has already wrought.

SB 173 implements two of our task force’s unanimous recommendations: That the legislature move to limit the fees and interest landlords can charge tenants or mobile homeowners for overdue rent, and to establish grace periods between when rent is due and fees are assessed. 

Colorado currently has none of these limits and allows landlords to begin charging fees the day after rent is due. This contributes to cycles of debt and increases the risk of eviction. And landlords should not realize profit from late fees or use them punitively. It is time for Colorado to join many other states and enact reasonable guardrails on late fees.    

SB 173 would also extend the amount of time tenants have to pay rent that is owed and remain in their homes without extending the eviction timeline for landlords. 

Our task force heard the extraordinary need for rental assistance across the state — demand that has only increased since our convening — and how even without a pandemic, it can take weeks for that assistance to reach tenants and landlords. Allowing more time for landlords to be made whole while simultaneously avoiding eviction is a win-win.  

The bill also would help level the playing field between landlords and tenants going through eviction court. It would allow tenants to assert health and safety defenses without having to pay a fee that prices many out of court, and establish meaningful compensation to tenants who have been informally evicted by a landlord illegally locking them out of their homes. 

No matter how it happens, eviction disproportionately harms communities of color, particularly women of color. Due process should be meaningfully accessible to everyone.  

More broadly, we continue to urge a statewide eviction moratorium. We also support legislative efforts championed by the Division of Housing in response to COVID-19 that would advance renters’ financial stability and lift restrictions on undocumented immigrants’ eligibility for state and local housing assistance funds.

In this moment when people’s health and financial well being hang in the balance like never before, we call on our elected officials to respond to the heightened public concern for the housing stressors too many Coloradans face every day and enact meaningful reform.  

Rachel Friend is a Boulder City Council member. Beatriz Gonzalez is vice president of community lending and diverse markets for Bank of the West. Skippy Mesirow is an Aspen City Council member. Jennie Rodgers is vice president and Colorado market leader for Enterprise Community Partners. Chris Romer is CEO and co-founder of Project Canary. Leanne Wheeler is an investment advisor, property owner, and permanent supportive housing project member in Aurora.

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Special to The Colorado Sun

Special to The Colorado Sun